The key to Keld Chapel is hanging by the front door of the house opposite. It’s that kind of place, if you know what I mean. Keld is a tiny Cumbrian hamlet just outside the straggling village of Shap and a little south east of the long abandoned Shap Abbey. Travellers on the M6 will be familiar with Shap Fell – not the kindest place to be driving in bad weather, but offering spectacular views on a clear day.
‘Keld’ is generally thought to derive from kelda, old Scandinavian for spring, or well. The hamlet was possibly once larger than it is now and may well have existed in Roman times.
No one knows a great deal about this chapel. It is probably 16th century and thought to be a ‘chantry chapel’ – set up purely as a place to say masses for departed souls. It was common practice in pre-reformation Roman Catholic Britain for those with enough money to pay a priest or church for masses to be said for them, or their nearest and dearest, but there could be so many of these that there was a danger of prayers for the dead overwhelming a church timetable. Hence, setting up a dedicated chapel was a good wheeze. It has been suggested that Keld Chapel was associated with Shap Abbey before the latter was dissolved in 1540 – which would make sense. It has also been suggested that the chapel was set up during the brief reign of Mary Tudor (1553-58), when England had an official, but transitory, flirtation with Catholicism. Perhaps, some say, the window over the altar table came from the ruins of Shap Abbey.
In short, I can tell you very little about Keld Chapel: except that it’s an intriguing place to visit if you happen to be somewhere in this part of north west England and a little off the popular tourist track – or if you feel in need of a dose of quirky heritage. It was actually a dwelling for some time – and was also used to house navvies working on the construction of the nearby railway.
We almost lost it. In 1917, Lord Lonsdale wanted it demolished because he claimed it obstructed his carriages on their way to his shooting lodge on Rafland Moor.
Now, Keld Chapel is in the care of the NationalTrust; and I’m glad to say there isn’t a tacky ornament, tea-towel or bar of lavender soap in sight.
Linking to InSPIREd Sunday